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Korrie Wenzel: Ticket giveaway shows it's a small world

Sue Olson is a great fan of UND hockey. A UND alumna who now lives in Devils Lake, she and her husband, Jeff, attend games nearly every weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena. A few months back, they made arrangements to attend the Hawks' game in Las Vegas against longtime rival Minnesota.

She was elated to learn last week that she won two tickets from the Herald to attend the game.

You see, Sue and her husband, Jeff, will be accompanied to Las Vegas by their sons. The trouble was, they only had procured two tickets for the game. When the Herald called to tell her she won two of our tickets — along with some pocket money — she was thrilled.

"Our sons were going with us to Vegas, but only two of us would get to go to the game and two would have to go see a show," said Olson, a teacher. "Now that we have four tickets, we all get to go to the game."

In fact, one of her sons first told her—or at least tried to tell her—of her good luck.

"My son tried calling as I was leaving school, but I didn't answer my phone," Olson said. "Then I got a text in all capital letters: Call right away!"

It's fun to have a giveaway and then get to see first-hand the joy that the prize brings. Olson stopped by the Herald office Thursday to pick up the tickets and genuinely seemed pleased.

But the story got surreal shortly after she arrived, and it added to the strange coincidences that accompanied the Herald's Las Vegas ticket giveaway.

Here's the background on the promotion: As a longtime season-ticket holder, the Herald had an early opportunity, way back in January 2017, to purchase tickets for the Las Vegas game. Those four tickets have been burning a hole in our pockets ever since, as we tried to decide what, exactly, to do with them.

An idea was hatched: Offer the tickets in two pairs along with an additional $400 per set to cover expenses, then give them away to readers. We published the promotion via Herald advertising and ended up with nearly 1,200 entries after just one week.

We arranged all of the entries in piles formed in a circle, and then spun a metal ruler in the center. When the ruler came to a rest, we randomly chose an envelope from the pile to which it pointed. That's how we selected Olson and the other winner, Betty Hillestad, of Grand Forks.

Here's where it gets weird. I swear the process was on the up-and-up and the winners were chosen completely at random.

Hillestad's entry was the first envelope chosen. Although she has no professional connection to the Herald, she is an acquaintance of several office employees, who were happy at least two of the tickets were won by someone they know.

One of those employees telephoned Hillestad and, before telling her she was a winner, casually asked, "Where are you now?"

Hillestad's answer: "I'm on my way to your building to turn in my bingo cards. Why?"

Weird, right?

But there's more: Thursday, when Olson came from Devils Lake to pick up her tickets, she was visiting with Herald staffers in the front office and telling us how the extra tickets will allow her whole family to attend the Las Vegas game. As she spoke, one of our employees came forward and approached Olson, whom none of us had met before this meeting.

"Sue, do you remember me?" our employee asked.

They then embraced. Turns out, they were roommates at UND and hadn't seen each other in decades.

Nearly two years ago, the Herald bought four tickets for a faraway hockey game. A month ago, we decided to use them as a reader-appreciation promotion and after just one week of advertising it, we were flooded with entries. We spread those entries on a table, arranged in a dozen piles and several inches high. Twice, the ruler was given a hearty spin, eventually pointing to a winning pile. The Herald's publisher—still relatively new in town and without a lifetime of local acquaintances—averted his eyes toward the ceiling and randomly selected two envelopes from the chosen piles.

From that arbitrary process, this odd series of coincidences began.

Enjoy the tickets, ladies. Thank you for giving us a great story to tell and, mostly, for making us smile. We hope we made you smile, too.

Korrie Wenzel has been publisher of the Herald since 2014.